Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For better or for worse

It is a fact universally acknowledged by book lovers that movie versions of books--especially great books--are rarely as good as their original novels. I can think of maybe two exceptions to this: "Little Women" and BBC's "Pride and Prejudice" are both top-notch adaptations. (Note: Some people also claim that Bridget Jones's Diary is better in movie form, but I know that these people must not have read the book first and cemented their loyalty to it like I did, because it is so hilarious it had even stoic old me laughing out loud. The second book is even funnier, much unlike the second film.)

However, book lovers who also love movies can still enjoy the latter by just pretending that they are two separate entities, letting go of their high expectations and all the details of the book and just enjoying the entertainment on the screen. I can usually do this, unless the filmmakers just ruin a book. In these cases, I just ask that they change the title of the movie so that everyone can be happy. How hard is that?

Case in point: "Confessions of a Shopaholic," the movie. Now, I love me some Shopaholic books. Even though it gets slightly frustrating that the sequels have Becky regressing back to the same person she was before her big epiphany and auction at the end of the first book, I am glad there are sequels because they are too funny. And even though Becky as a childlike, shopping-obsessed character romantically involved with a slightly condescending man is kind of chick-lit-formula territory, I think Sophie Kinsella does it in a quality, hilarious way--and her many imitators fall way flat. So I knew the movie wouldn't live up to Becky's adventures in my head.

But how many ways can you differ from the books in the movie? The main problem is that Becky in the movie is not English, nor does she live in London. This practically undermines the whole story, because what makes Kinsella's storytelling so great is imagining Becky saying things like "shop assistant" in a British accent. The strange thing is that the writers kept typically English phrases like that in the script, when an American would never ever say "shop assistant." I would have even settled for an American actress playing Becky in London (like Renee Zellwegger did Bridget).

And, anyway, isn't Isla Fisher actually British? (As a fellow redhead, I like her lots, even though I'm freaked out about how anyone can be married to Sasha Baron Cohen, and also I'm pretty sure Becky wasn't a redhead in the books, much to my chagrin.) But, no, she's an American Becky, living with her American roommate, Suze (played by the awesome Krystin Ritter), who calls her "Bex" (which only those creative-with-the-nicknames Brits would ever make up). And Tarquin (another way-not-American name), Suze's boyfriend, is not also Suze's cousin--which was so British and funny in the books--and not an awkward freak. Sigh.

And I'm not even at all an Anglophile, I promise.

Listen, I understand sometimes you have to change things logistically for them to work in film, but is there a reason for this to be a copycat of "The Devil Wears Prada" ? (Though I do always get a thrill seeing my old stomping grounds on Sixth Avenue in movies--and Becky and Luke (thankfully, at least he's British) are even clearly in front of my old office at one point.) Also, why oh why, did they completely reverse the very important point that Becky's parents are also kooky spendthrifts like her, and that's why she has this bad behavior? Perhaps most aggregiously, why is Joan Cusack playing Becky's mother when the actors are only fourteen years apart??? Shame on you, Hollywood.

So, in my head this movie is called "Shoppers Anonymous" (loved Wendie Malick as the taskmaster group leader), and it was very enjoyable. And so are the Shopaholic books, even though they only inspired the movie and weren't at all betrayed by it. You know, just like "Clueless" is to Emma.

- L'Editrice

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Girls--of all ages--rock

If any of you are in the NYC area this summer--or can be--you should totally go to rock camp! I went in 2006 (I was the guitarist for The Spectacles), and it was amazing. Aside from the unparalleled experience of forming a rock band with perfect strangers and writing and performing our own original song in three days (sounds scary, I know, but if I can do it, you can, too!), the camp is a fundraiser for girls' scholarships for Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. (Watch the fabulous rockumentary "Girls Rock!" to see the Portland edition of these inspiring young rockers.)

- L'Editrice

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't stop believin'

So I'm probably the last person to know about this, seeing as Ashton Kutcher has already tweeted numerous times about them, but these kids make me so happy and hopeful. I've always believed that the arts are a really important part of education, and seeing these kids' faces confirms this for me. As anyone who is a writer or reader knows, having a creative outlet can do so much for every other part of your life.

And what an amazing teacher, right? I admire music teachers so much, for their passion, dedication, and their smarts; I loved being involved in choir and musical theater, but found music theory to be my toughest subject (well, aside from P.E.).

- L'Editrice

P.S. And don't stop voting for Vicki. You can vote once a day!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

This is for all the daddies out there

In honor of Father's Day, Oprah (yes, I am coming out of the closet about my TV habits) had a whole show about single dads. These two stories brought tears to my eyes--and they're both related to writing and books.

The first is about Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, and his family. Now I'll be honest, I still haven't seen the Broadway show (though I've entered the lottery for reduced-price tickets several times) and the book was over my head/too much fantasy for me to finish. But now I admire Mr. Maguire even more. I love how Maguire and his husband are co-parents, splitting the caring of their family equally, which is something many "conventional" couples could learn from. It annoys me to no end when dads who are just being good dads are called "Mr. Mom" or praised for "helping" their wives or "babysitting," when they are just being the parents that all fathers should be. Or when commercials and TV shows perpetuate the myth that men are somehow inadequate at housework and child care. Let's get with 2009, people.

The second is about New York Times editor Dana Canedy's book, A Journal for Jordan, which tells the story of the amazing diary her husband left for their son before returning to his deployment in Iraq, where he died. Among all its other moving messages, I was struck by how powerful and life-changing writing can be, and how it can be the legacy one leaves behind.

- L'Editrice

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lost in translation

Last night I was brave and went all by myself to a French-conversation meetup. It ended up being a lot of fun, and it had me thinking about how knowing another language can help you appreciate and understand your own even more--in the obvious ways, such as when English words come from that foreign language (you'd be surprised how many times I had to tell my ready buddy, "Yes, you pronounced that right for English, but it comes from French so you don't pronounce the last letter."), but also just in realizing how cool and nuanced language is. (Again, why didn't I take linguistics?)

The evening also reminded me of all the foreign words that we butcher in English. Now, I come from Texas, where Spanish place-names are commonplace and yet people can't be bothered to add the last syllable when saying "Rio Grande"--either out of ignorance, pride, or both--and where they pronounce the town named "Palacios" as "Pal-ay-shus." So I should be used to all this by now. But it still really bugs me when people pronounce "bouquet" as "bow-kay." I mean, sure, there's a level of pretentiousness when someone goes too far out of their way to pronounce a foreign word accurately, but at least getting the vowels correct is all I ask for.

When I moved to New York, I noticed that the words people mangled there were mostly Italian--this in a place with a huge percentage of Italians. So "pasta" became "pass-ta" and "Mario" was "Mare-ee-o." The other day I was watching "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" (I'm not proud of this, but it's true), and I heard perhaps the worst mispronunciation ever: Teresa pronounces her last name of "Giudice" as "Jew-dice." Now, I don't pretend to speak Italian, and I'm sure I don't know how to say that name perfectly, but I'm pretty sure it has four syllables rather than those two, which sound quite unfortunate together.

It reminds me of when poor Terri Schiavo was in the news. Everyone kept pronouncing her last name as "Shivo" for some strange reason. Maybe it was because they saw the sad appropriateness of her actual name--"schiavo" (three syllables, starting with "sch-" as in "school") means "slave" in Italian.

Now don't even get me started on the weird ways people pronounce town names in the Boston area. . . .

Do any of you have any mispronunciation pet peeves?

- L'Editrice

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vicki rocks the flock

Please vote for my friend Victoria Jamieson for Curly Girl Ambassador! Not only does she have beautiful curly hair, she also is an amazing illustrator, author, and designer. Check out her oh-so-creative entry, above, and her new book, Bea Rocks the Flock!
- L'Editrice

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Telling stories

When I decided to become an editor, I assumed that the way I read for enjoyment would change. And it's true, sometimes I will read something and wonder how it could have been different with a different editor--but mostly I think it's fascinating, and not anything I obsess over and nitpick about. Luckily, I can indeed still read for pleasure--perhaps even more so, because I know all the work that goes into a book, so I admire its creators even more and are willing to look past weaknesses more generously.

I have also gotten more interested in storytelling of all forms. Though I know a movie takes hundreds more people to come to life, sometimes I'll watch one and think, Man, I could have edited that story a lot better--the plot and characters might have even made sense. (I'm looking at you, "Because I Said So.")

I also find that whereas in the past I might have admired the actors or director in a really great movie, now I'm mostly interested in the person who usually gets the least spotlight of all, the writer. Like after watching "Little Miss Sunshine," I went straight to IMDB to find out what additional movies by Michael Arndt I could watch. (Sadly, the answer is not very many--yet.)

How has your perception and/or awareness of storytelling--whether in fiction or non (biography, journalism, "reality" TV, documentary, etc.--they are all putting forth a narrative)--changed since you started writing/illustrating/editing?

- L'Editrice

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great escapes

Today I'm linking to Meg Cabot's blog, because I think her post really speaks to why so many of us grown-ups go ga-ga over YA literature. It also relates to the discussion of optimism in my most recent post--both in terms of the craft, and in regards to Cabot's life. I had no idea she has survived so much in her life, which makes me admire her success even more.

I will just make a brief linguistics-related comment. (I am fascinated by linguistics and language, and very much regret not taking a linguistics class in college, or really very many classes at all besides those that I thought you needed to go to law school, because that's what I thought I wanted to do since I was twelve, and I never questioned it till much later. Ha, I also like run-on, stream-of-consciousness sentences.):

I absolutely hate this new trend of calling everything people love to indulge in as guilty pleasures (wedding shows, home-decor magazines, cute-animal websites) "p*rn." I don't even want the word on my blog because I hate it and how it's become so trivialized--the more it's used for innocuous things, the more the real stuff gets treated as mainstream and not at all problematic. And it is problematic, people. (I did find room in my schedule take Women and Gender Studies 101 in college, obviously. ; P ) The root of the word p*rnography comes from the word for "slave/prostitute." It's not fun or cool or deserving of a cutesy nickname.

Also, dictionary.com defines it as: "obscene writings, drawings, photgraphs, or the like, esp. those having little or no artistic merit." 'Nuff said.

- L'Editrice

Monday, June 8, 2009

Does optimism belong to the young?

One of the things I love most about YA literature, and one of the important things that differentiates it from adult fiction, is the sense of hope in the end, no matter how bleak a story might have been. And it's something that I think we always need in the world, especially in hard times, when it's so hard to be optimistic. This was something my best friend and I were discussing recently, and I thought I'd re-post it here to see if any of you guys had something to add to our conversation:

"So, I saw an interesting movie recently that I thought was worth talking about. Not necessarily because it was awesome, but because it was about something that sounded so simple, but manifested itself in a very interesting way; the worldview of an optimist. I'm not sure if you have seen or heard about Happy Go Lucky, but the premise is pretty simple. It is basically about a woman (Poppy) who gets her bike stolen, and has to learn how to drive in order to make her daily commute. The way her personality is revealed in the film is through her interactions with family, friends, and her driving instructor who is this admittedly bizarre misanthrope, the perfect foil for her sunny charm. Poppy is this remarkably cheerful, happy person and not in a creepy over the top way , but an actual multi dimensional happy person. It sounds silly even as I write it, but portraying that kind of optimism really is amazing, and it feels really fresh and innovative because most people can't create that person without making them sentimental or excessive in some way.I have to confess that at times I found her personality puzzling, and downright annoying but I think it says more about me, and my lack of exposure to people who have embraced their circumstances so positively. I also thought the storyline was so interesting because if you sat down and thought to yourself "I want to make a story about an optimist" is this the conceit you would use to tell that story? I mean it could have been done more obviously if, for example you gave your main character a major, life altering obstacle to overcome and they proved their optimism by conquering it with grace. When I think about things like that it makes me admire people who can tell stories even more because they have to consider so many things in order to tell a story uniquely. So, the question this film got me thinking about is: why is optimism so hard to show? Or maybe it isn't and I just can't think of good examples in popular culture? Also, I wonder if an American filmmaker would take the same approach to this basic subject matter?"

"Yes, I've heard such good things about that movie, and it's on my queue. I think you pose a really interesting question. I was going to reply that we do have lots of optimistic movies/shows, but that they're actually ignorantly blissful, and that makes them negative to me as a critical-thinking viewer--like, the kids on The Hills are a pretty happy/lucky bunch, but it makes me pessimistic--but I realized that even so-called feel-good movies are so at the expense of others. Maybe they're making fun of someone to get their happiness or maybe burying their head in the sand about how what they're doing so optimistically is actually killing others (you know, like in documentaries about our government).Do you think pessism is just part of our society--maybe American society, as you posit, or maybe just humanity, at this point in time or since the beginning of it? I don't think pessimism is always a bad thing--it is intrinsically tied to realism and criticism, which is what we are doing right here on this blog. I guess if we were totally optimistic we'd be happy all the time, but then would there be anything to talk about, anything to explore? On the flip side, I guess, optimism is also what gives us the will to criticize and explore, makes us feel there's a point to things and encourages us to seek progress.I will say this: I can't wait to see the movie if only because I feel that we've gotten to this point where everything is jaded, cynical, and mean, and that's just depressing. Maybe I want an escape from reality, but I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm also interested to see how the story arc works in "Happy Go Lucky," since for a story to be a story it has to have a conflict and climax and solution found (ideally) by the protagonist."

"You posed a lot of great things for me to think about both with this movie and the idea of an optimist as a whole. I have to confess that I began reading reviews this afternoon, which I love to do even though they inevitably alter my ideas. One idea I started thinking about is whether optimism is tied to a moral scheme? Do you have to believe in certain moral imperatives to practice optimism or is your world more flexible?I like what you said about optimism often being portrayed as a kind of blissful ignorance, because I think that's the most common way we see it in our society, and it also seems like the way we judge happiness. When you said you felt dispirited by how jaded and cynical society has become I can't help but think that's (partly) the result of a full decade (at least) of non stop irony. Because that's the mode so much of our world operates in it is hard to step back and act or appreciate things wholeheartedly without feeling a little foolish. There always has to be a safe distance between a genuine emotion and how we imagine that emotion to be judged. I'm not sure how much of a tangent I'm going on here, but I'll attempt to bring this back to the movie. I think Happy Go Lucky is a pretty realistic movie, and actually fairly steeped in the banal activities of everyday life. Maybe that's what initially made the simplistic plot feel odd to me. There are no contrivances because this is a story with no irony, and I think it asks the audience to watch it in the same spirit. I do think that doses of skepticism are needed to cope with everyday life, and to your point to be a thoughtful critic. I also think to be happy in the way that Poppy is requires more then just a good attitude. It really feels like a worldview, a pre-determined choice not to judge, to hold back skepticism, and to always imagine the best. Pretty amazing right?"

- L'Editrice

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

These are a few of my least favorite things

I think language is so interesting to examine (which people don't do nearly enough) because it says so much about the society we live in. There are several--well, probably countless--words and phrases that exist in our culture that I am completely sick of. One that I've been bombarded with a lot lately is "princess." As in "You look like a princess" or "I feel like a princess"--spoken to or by a grown woman.

First of all, what does this even mean? I feel like people think this is what you're supposed to say or think when a woman is looking attractive or celebrating a special occasion, but it irks me to no end, mostly because the ostensible meaning is that the woman looks like she is worthy of praise and worship, because her appearance merits it. How about celebrating a woman's athletic or academic or artistic accomplishments? How about a woman not caring how others perceive her? (And don't even get me started on people who say they get dressed up or get plastic surgery "for myself." I get that we don't live in a vacuum and others are part of our lives, but that kind of faux empowerment rhetoric is so infuriating and insidious, co-opted from feminism by forces that make money off anti-feminism.) If you want to feel like royalty (which is outdated enough), why not a queen, who actually probably has power? It's because a princess is young and pretty, and a queen is old and thus not valued, right? Interesting, too, that some gay men like to be jokingly called "queen" rather than "princess" . . .

All this to say that I may need to add an addendum to my post about Princess Tiana--because I don't necessarily think it's much better that little black girls are being targeted with all this princess stuff, either. From the incessant marketing of the Disney machine to the well-meaning hairdresser at SuperCuts last week who I heard telling a little girl getting a pageboy that she was getting "a princess haircut," princess speak is everywhere. Can't we give our girls another role model in 2009? Especially since being a "princess" seems to involve looking pretty (for others--little girls are taught very early that society's gaze is focused upon their gender) and acquiring more material things. Can we mix in astronaut and cowgirl and doctor and teacher and other labels in there, as we do for boys? Actually, if we say anything to the boys, it's very rarely about how they look like someone or something, but how they are acting like it. And isn't that we're always trying to teach all kids--that it's what's on the inside that counts, that all your dreams can come true if you work hard?

I promise I can tie this in to children's lit . . . and this is how: Even though, as I've said, I'm generally against message-y books done just for the sake of message, I do think we send strong messages through our art/media and we should take advantage of this. Why not tell a great story that inspires with a non-conventional main character, rather than continuing to publish the same old books that teach girls that they should like pink and fanciness and boys should like getting dirty and playing sports? Isn't there room for both genders to do both? That's not to say that there isn't room for all of the books on the spectrum--the sugar & spice books, the sensitive-boy books, the who-cares-if-you're-a-boy-or-a-girl books. And not to say that there aren't already great books that break the mold and defy the stereotypes. But I wish that the bestsellers--and what publishers publish, thus repeating the cycle over and over again--weren't just these traditional-role/pro-materialist books. I feel strongly that in our society today, life imitates art because our "art" is so powerful and pervasive, and sometimes it scares me how much it can shape our society for the worse.

This of course applies to YA-writing as well, if not more so. I think that especially on a topic that just hasn't been discussed enough, getting in-your-face with a message is sometimes the only way to go, particularly at the beginning of its introduction to the canon. For example, Neesha Meminger's Shine, Coconut Moon, is wonderfully written, with an authentic teen voice and story, but it's clear what the author's opinion is. And I loved that about it. This may make me rare among editors, but with my background in political science and sociology, I'm already a rare one.

Now it's your turn: Are there any topics or cultural ideas you think need to be addressed in kids' or YA literature? Any overused phrases or words that bug you to no end? Please share!

- L'Editrice

P.S. Apparently I can't help but be political, so why should I even try to keep myself from it?

P.P.S. Two other phrases that annoy me, and that are often used to describe women on the dating scene: "Down-to-earth" and "She doesn't take herself too seriously." The first I feel has lost all meaning in its overuse. And maybe it's just because I'm pretty sure no one would describe me as those things, at least not the latter, but I just feel like people know these are things you're supposed to want in mate, and so they spout them out. On the latter, though, why shouldn't we take ourselves seriously? To me that's about self-respect.